As attested by Honoré de Balzac and Théophile Gautier, the figure of the rat is among the animal metaphors that the Romantics held dear (once his studies were completed, the rat became a “tiger” and sometimes a “panther”. For Emile Littré, the word could be a truncated form of the expression “demoiselle d’opéra” (young lady of the opera) who was known as a “ra”. According to another explanation, “petit rat” has its origins in the noise made by the pointe shoes of the young dancers on the wooden floors of the rehearsal rooms situated in the attics of the Paris Opera. The “little rat” is a young pupil at the School of Dance of the Paris Opera who takes lessons and performs in ballet productions. Formerly housed at the Palais Garnier, s/he is now trained in the building designed by Christian de Portzamparc in Nanterre.
“They are only to be found near the Rue Le Peletier, at the Royal Academy of Music, or near Rue Richer, at the ballet class; they exist but there; you will seek the rat in vain over the entire surface of the globe. Paris possesses three things that all other capitals envy her: the street urchin, the seamstress and the rat.” Le Rat, Théophile Gautier.